Date Night: An Enjoyable Date Due to Strong Chemistry

There are so many terrible “date movies” that are made, either romantic comedies or tearjerking dramas that are tailor made for girls to drag their guys to. I don’t know whether they think girls are easily fooled, but many of these films are inferior because of the lack of chemistry between the leads. Here, we have two comedians, Steve Carell and Tina Fey, who aren’t attempting to smolder or show deep passion with their love story. Instead, they are trying to reignite the passion they lost– to make sure that as husband and wife, they’re still in love, not just “really good roommates.” Their chemistry, both as comedians and each other’s love interests, is just right. Date Night is nothing more than a popcorn flick, but it passes the time well, hosting a couple of amusing action sequences and earning plenty of laughs.

Carell and Fey are Phil and Claire Foster. Phil is a tax advisor, Claire is a realtor. They live in a decent house in New Jersey with their kids and live a very average uneventful life. They’re content… until they hear their married friends (Mark Ruffalo and Kristen Wiig) are getting a divorce. This makes them wonder if they need to rekindle the flame, so they steal away into the big city for a fancy dinner. The restaurant, Claw, like most upscale NYC places, is packed (they answer the phone by saying “You’re welcome”), so Phil takes the unclaimed reservation of the Tripplehorns. One problem: two thugs (Common and Jimmi Simpson) take them outside and insist they hand over the flash drive or they’ll be killed. Mistaken identity turns to a night on the run– and to make matters worse, when they go talk to the police (Taraji P. Henson), it turns out the thugs are police officers on the payroll of mob boss Joe Miletto (Ray Liotta). With the help of a former client of Claire’s (Mark Wahlberg), they try to find the real Tripplehorns, clear their names, and get back to their regular life in New Jersey.

Other movies that revolve around a couple often assume that we automatically believe the actors as a couple and that we automatically care what happens to them. Here, Shawn Levy establishes in a very short amount of time enough personality and scenarios we can relate to. It helps that Carell and Fey, two TV stars, are great at riffing and one of the couples’ central bits– looking at other couples and guessing what they’re talking about– feels easy and fun. Even though they’re dull, we’d like to hang out with these two. The idea that a relationship cools down after a long period of time is nothing new under the sun, and it’s nice to see a movie in which both parties care so deeply about reviving it; the film puts them on even terrain, instead of making it the insensitive husband or naggy wife. Carell has already shown he can carry a film, but I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a big Tina Fey fan. This is the first time that I’ve been impressed with her ability to play a character and give a 3-dimensional performance.

The film itself isn’t anything different or special: it serves its purpose, which is to entertain. I liked Mark Wahlberg as the hunky friend who makes Phil squirm. It’s so interesting seeing how alive Wahlberg can be in some films (I Heart Huckabees, The Departed, etc.) and so devoid of personality in others (The Happening, The Lovely Bones, etc.). One or two action sequences managed to be funny and exciting at once– I was immediately reminded of Carell in Get Smart, which tried so hard to be funny and exciting and was neither. In particular, I enjoyed a chase involving the Fosters’ car getting attached to a taxi cab driven by JB Smoove. If you don’t know who JB Smoove is yet, do yourself a favor and rent the last two seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm (or Youtube his name)… he is one of the funniest comedians out there. But really, the entire film rests on Carell and Fey’s shoulders. With two other actors playing these roles, it’s quite likely this would be just another “date movie” that I would rant about for four paragraphs and then give a low score to. Instead, thanks to the chemistry of the two leads, Date Night is a night worth having.

~ by russellhainline on May 3, 2010.

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